The shelfless: expat books ‘don’t exist’


in borderlands,career,community,culture,global niche,identity,psychic limbo,society

Solitary tree by KKarahan


The best businesses evolve out of a gap in the market. If you’re lucky, that gap is also a defined niche like Chris Anderson explains in The Long Tail. Could expat books be an under-served sweet spot?

I think there’s a need for them, and great authors out there. But bookstores and libraries don’t recognize expat lit as a genre nor do they categorize expat how-tos, self-help and humor. (See expat+HAREM on the need to categorize hybrid writing.)

Most publishers produce books that fit existing, classified, categories. At the Book Industry Study Group you will find travel, but you won’t find expatriate among the categories. Even though today 80% of readers buy their books online, Amazon still has no expatriate category.

Expat life remains unrecognized. Unlabelled. Shelfless. Unsupported by the establishment, I pushed my expat publisher business idea aside for fifteen years.

No longer. I’m listening to my heart now and plan to publish six quirky, useful books a year for readers who live abroad, have lived abroad or who are thinking of doing so.

I realize my niche fits with my expertise and with my network. As a journalist and magazine editor I have connections with both traditional and expat media. I have what it takes to make that leap of faith and don’t need to wait for the book industry, book sellers, or other publishers to join me.

We’ll be promoting our books online directly to expatriate publications, websites, groups and bookshops, avoiding traditional routes where we “don’t exist”. I’ve learned from Aaron Shepard, author of Aiming At Amazon, to include the right keywords in a book’s title, subtitle and in the metadata, so that it gets found by online shoppers. Expat-Abroad-Overseas-International-Global.

Have you learned niche business lessons from your out-of-the-ordinary life?

Jo Parfitt is a writer, author of 27 books, speaker, publisher and writers’ mentor currently based in The Hague, Netherlands. See submission guidelines for Summertime Publishing.

Post illustration by Kirsten Lauer Karahan

  • Costaricarico

    Hello Jo

    I have a very unique story to tell, as a Canadian, that relocated to live in Costa Rica

    my wife and I, were set up in a huge real estate scam m and were manipulated by Costa Rican lawyers, that had us charged with a crime, that could never of happened,

    But,,law system in Costa Rica, Napoleonic 400 year old laws , allowed this to happen to us

    We lost a million dollar home, cars business and    all our personal personal belonging, and left out on the streets of San Jose, without passport,  unable to leave the country,and unable to work

    it took three and a half years, for our name to be cleared, and once cleared, we were able to counter sue, and possible get anything  all back

    We have been told for years,,,,what a story,,,,cant believe what we hear,,,,write a book,,,should be a movie,,,ect ect

    I am not a writer, but after reading, that this is a little interest in Expat stories,,,a write you a simple note, to ask your opinion

    you cant possible imagine, what can transpire , our lives have been destroyed, and after three years of dealing with courts, lawyers and the equivalent if the FBI here, we cleared our name, 

    This case,,,,would have lasted about one day in any court in first world countries, and people need to know, this happens,,and that when it does,,they has alot to learn about the support system in place, from your native country, Embassies literally cannot help you in any way at all

    If you are faced with a criminal charge in a foreign country , you are totally on your own

    Love to hear your thoughts and opinions

    Richard W Middleton

  • ExpatApple

    Jo you are so right – the STARS need a place to shine.

    • Anastasia

      For those unfamiliar with Apple’s reference, STARS stands for “Spouses Travelling and Relocating Successfully” — a coinage from the Families in Global Transition conference of 2011, meant to replace what many find a derogatory term in the expat “trailing spouse”. As Apple describes last month in her recap of the FIGT conference, “Those stalwart women, and men, who support their partner’s careers in countries not their own.”

  • Anastasia

    Thanks for this, Jo! Identifying the need for the category is the first step to remedying the oversight….I’m looking forward to the body of work you begin to release. As much as this reality has been an obstacle for you as a fellow publisher — “Most publishers produce books that fit existing, classified, categories” — it’s been an obstacle for writers.

    I’m passing on a comment from American writer and teacher in China Steph Fuccio who responded via Twitter: “Man, didn’t even know that there finally was a genre cat for this stuff til I had a poof moment last week, so still flying high from that right now. I kicked myself HUGE years ago when I wrote and wrote stuff and was rejected by travel pubs and non-travel pubs, no niche seemed to be quite right. Relief knowing there is now a place for all these great works…”

    Steph also points out these expat lit courses at Stanford University and the syllabus for a course led by Dr. Nancy Dixon at University of New Orleans.

  • Jo Parfitt

    Since I wrote this post the American Book Center in Amsterdam agreed to trial an expat issues shelf! Will they be trendsetters, I wonder? Jo

    • Anonymous

      Hi Jo, Congrats with pushing through. I doubt your idea needed to have the dust brushed off, somehow I suspect you’ve been buffing and polishing it along the way. ABC is one of my fave book and gathering spots in Amsterdam. Absolutely love the TreeHouse. I foresee a wonderful book launch party over there. Not surprised at all they create a shelf for this supposedly new genre, if anything the store thrives on expats aiming to find what they’re looking for. Good luck with your new business venture! Look forward to hearing more!

      • Jo Parfitt

        The ABC did host a book launch for my author, Niamh Ni Bhroin’s The Singing Warrior and my mentee, Carolyn Vines’ Black and (A)broad on Saturday, actually – and free of charge too. Thanks to Lynn Kaplanian the director of ABC for her amazing support.

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